On Sept. 25, Kevin Connors ’97 was invited back to the college to emcee the 2015 Athletics Hall of Fame ceremony. Currently, he is a host for ESPN SportsCenter and has been there ever since he joined the network in 2008.
Connors was a member of the men’s basketball team during his four years on South Hill, and he was a graduate of the Roy H. Park School of Communications, receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in television-radio.
During his time at the college, he was a part of both ICTV, the college television station, and WICB, the college radio station, where he broadcasted all of the home football games and hosted “The Gridiron Report” during his senior year.
Sports Editor Jonathan Beck spoke with Connors about the Hall of Fame, his experiences during his time as a student at the college and his favorite moments of his 20-year career.
Jonathan Beck: What does it mean to come back and be the emcee for the 2015 Athletics Hall of Fame ceremony at your alma mater?
Kevin Connors: It’s an extraordinary experience. This place meant so much to me, and to be a part of athletics here was really neat, and to be a part of the Park School was outstanding. I never even thought about having an opportunity like this, but to honor so many outstanding individuals in their respective sports and to share on this night with them is a fabulous experience. It’s one that I’m really proud to be back for.
JB: What made you want to pursue a career in sports journalism?
KC: I was either a sophomore or a junior in high school when I said, “Well, Kev, you’re not going to play in the NBA. So what can I do to be around sports on a long-term basis, and watching sports all the time on TV and listening on the radio and things like that?” I was passionate about broadcasting. I can remember doing play-by-play of sports video games that I would play with my friends, or we had a Nerf basketball hoop in my bedroom and I’d be shooting around and doing play-by-play of that. I knew I wanted to play basketball in college, and I knew at the Division III level was where I could play. So I knew when I came up to Ithaca for a recruiting trip, I fell in love with the campus, I fell in love with the Park School and the fact I knew that I could play and study here — I was sold.
JB: How did your experiences here at the college prepare you for your current job at ESPN and all along the way?
KC: Having that attention to detail and wanting to be sure that I was accurate in what I did and professional in how I prepared for it. Being ready for the opportunity when it came along. I tell people that in the four years that I was here at Ithaca in Park, I treated it like it was a professional experience, so that when I got my first job, I didn’t feel like it was day one of a new job as a professional. I felt like I’d been preparing for that for four years. Opportunities have, in my career, not come for a long time and then they’ve come up. When they’ve come up, I’ve been prepared for them because of the foundation I had here of being ready in that position when it does come around.
JB: Who has been your favorite athlete to interview in your career?
KC: Boy, to boil it down to one is tough. I’ve had [Rob Gronkowski] on SportsCenter a couple of times, [and] he’s fun. And I’m a big Bills fan so I should hate the Patriots, which I do, but I love Gronk, he’s such a fun guy. I was never a NASCAR fan at all, but one year we had Brad Keselowski on after he won the Sprint Cup championship, and that’s probably the most memorable thing that I’ve done at ESPN was be a part of an interview with him where he had a couple of drinks after he won the race and he was really quite fun on air. So those are two that come to mind. I mean I’ve been very fortunate in my career. I got to interview Kirby Puckett and Ozzie Smith, Hall of Famers. I’ve asked questions in reporter situations to… Jordan, Tiger Woods, Derek Jeter. Mariano Rivera was great. There were a lot, but those were probably seven or eight of the big ones.
JB: What advice would you give to aspiring sports journalists?
KC: If you’re passionate about something, go after it and believe that it’s a possibility. Because I was very, very passionate about broadcasting. From the support of my parents and the education that I got here, and the support of the faculty here and the students that I was peers with, it made me believe that it was possible to do. So if this is a field that you want to be in — whether it’s being a photographer or a reporter or a producer or a director or whatever it is — if that’s what you want to do, work hard at it and believe that you can achieve it because if you do, it’s a real possibility that it could happen.